Macrotone Blogs

Macrotone blogs upon Joomla, our products and other matters.

Password Control 0.1.7 released

Password Control Icon

Password Control system plugin release 0.1.7 for Joomla 3.4 and 3.5.

This update corrects the display of the deprecated constructor method message seem when PHP 7 is used upon a site.

The install file is available in the download area.

Password Control 0.1.6 released

Password Control Icon

Password Control system plugin release 0.1.6 for Joomla 3.4.

This update adds the password checks to the User password rest form when the user has 'forgotten' their password.  It also updates the copyright date to 2016 and changes the 'once date' criteria to be a calendar form field.

The install file is available in the download area.

IP Mapping, clustering, refresh – performance impacts

ipmappingWe mentioned the other day about using HTML5 to determine a site visitors location and using it to be displayed upon a Google map. We are here looking at the various options that need to be considered when setting the parameters for the best ‘site impression’.  I have deliberately used the term ‘impression’ because most of the ‘work’ is actually performed by Javascript in the users browser. Each user will most likely be using a different machine, i.e. Desktop, laptop, tablet, smartphone etc., not to mention the different processors included in each type, and all these will different performance characteristics.  This each user’s impression of ‘how fast’ a site actually is, will be different, and this is without considering the impact of any network performance in a) obtaining the source data from the web site and b) the transfer of data to/from the Google mapping servers.

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Experiences with HTML5 mapping

ipmappingWe have recently been updating our IP Mapping Joomla component to handle HTML5 geolocation detection and thought this may be of interest to others.

IP Mapping was originally designed with the aim of displaying IP addresses upon Google Maps and experience has shown that although it works well it is very reliant upon the accuracy of the data held by the various database and communication suppliers. The various supplied of the IP to location mapping vary considerably in the accuracy of the location information. We ourselves have been ‘located’ as being several hundred miles away from where we were physically located, depending upon which IP-location provider we were using and when we were determining the location. Whilst this may be adequate for some, for others it is a little bit hit and miss. I am thinking here of a ‘local’ village or town intending to serve the local neighbourhood, who desire to know how widespread their visitors are.

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Joomla Resources

In the spirit of spreading information about Joomla this short message provides a short list of free Joomla resources that can assist you in meeting your website construction goals.

10 Joomla resources you can tap into:

Canvas Fingerprint code tracking

fingerprintThe topic of the moment appears to be ‘Canvas Fingerprinting’ with a number of articles available on the web. It is the latest development in use for tracking the movement of users on the web. You do not need to click on a widget to be tracked, just visiting the site is sufficient.  It exploits the subtle differences in the rendering of the same text to extract a consistent fingerprint that can easily be obtained in a fraction of a second without the user being made aware.

A research paper concluded that code used for canvas fingerprinting had been in use earlier this year on 5,000 or so popular websites, unknown to most of them. Most but not all the sites observed made use of a content-sharing widget from the company AddThis.

The mechanism: Canvas Fingerprinting works in a similar way to cookies, by keeping a record of which sites are visited. When a browser loaded the AddThis widget, JavaScript that enabled canvas fingerprinting was sent. The script used a capability in modern Web browsers called the canvas API that allows access to the computer’s graphics chip, which is intended for use with games or other interactive content.

An invisible image is sent to the browser, which renders it and sends data back to the server. That data can then be used to create a “fingerprint” of the computer, which could be useful for identifying the computer and serving targeted advertisements.

But of several emerging tracking methods, canvas fingerprinting isn’t the greatest: it’s not terribly accurate, and can be blocked.  The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) recommend their own ‘Privacy Badger’ or the Disconnect add-on.  

The list of sites that still track you is at this address.

So much for privacy.

MariaDB and Joomla ?

MariaDBWe were looking at the possibilities of upgrading the version of MySQL we are using on out NAS system and were reminded of the existence of the MariaDB database as a possible alternative. Alternative because our NAS does not easily permit the upgrade of the MYSQL part of the system mainly because it is so tightly tied into the other features.

What is MariaDB one might ask. Well there is probably no better explanation that that upon the MariaDB web site.

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Handling Googlebot URL detected errors.

GoogleWe tend to use Google Webmaster Tools to monitor our main site and in particular the Crawl Errors that it detects.  Sometimes we are a little confused as to where the errors are coming from since the 'source' URL is sometimes the self same page indicated as in error, and others indicate pages where we fail to find the link referenced as in error.

That said it has proved generally useful and mostly they are trivial to fix.  What it has been difficult to discover, is a good reference guide to the topic of Search Engine Friendly URLs known as SEF. Whilst acknowledging that the subject of SEF can be quite involved, our searches have yet to reveal a good comprehensive article upon the best design and implementation mechanisms. It is even more difficult to discover a good guide to resolving problems. Having found nothing suitable we decided to create this post as a record of our investigations and perhaps act as a guide for others.

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Problems with Windows 7 SP1 installation

windows7The question of quite how one is perceived as an expert in all things computing when one knows a little about one aspect of IT, is one that I will leave for those much more knowledgeable than I.

The other week I was presented with a PC that was reported as ‘crashing’ whilst in use.

I must admit I never managed to find it  crashing on me whilst I was looking it over, but there were a number of things that didn’t look quite right, as is usual when presented with a machine with ‘problems’.  There was a lot of ‘temp files’, consuming disk space and it was split into two partitions, the second of which (the data partition D:) was virtually empty and the system partition C: was virtually full, so a repartitioning would be a good start.  The Windows registry revealed a lot of entries that were not being used and there were obviously a lot of updates missing of which the most obvious was SP1.  One proceeded to run virus scans and starts updating with the latest Microsoft fixes. However whilst most of the updates applied themselves without any issues. SP1 would fail with an error message ‘0x800f081f’.

Searching the web suggested various solutions such as running a full disk check, installing the Windows Update Readiness Tool etc., but none of these made the slightest difference to the symptoms, even though there were a few disk errors detected and corrected.  As each solution involved quite a long time to complete, especially the disk check this was not going to be a quick resolution.

The Microsoft web site didn’t throw up any possible solution, but surely after all this time, I couldn’t be the first person to hit this problem? After several days spent trying the suggestions and after much searching I eventually found this link. Although it was concerning Windows 2008 R2 it was still applicable. The symptoms described almost exactly match what we were experiencing. Even the screenshots reflected the symptoms we observed, although the event log display was slightly different.  With this closeness we tried the suggestion.

The removal of the patch KB976932 with the Deployment Image Services and Management Tool, took over an hour and it was not always immediately obvious that it was being removed, or even doing anything at all, but one resisted the temptation to ‘tinker’.  Once removed the next attempt to install the SP1 upgrade immediately started working.

Over an hour later after a reboot we could then check for any further updates. As you may guess there were nearly another 100 patches to apply, so we were not complete yet, but at least we were over our major hurdle and we were almost ready to finish our tests and give the machine back to its owners.

reCAPTCHA updated by Google

We have noticed recently that on some sites, that Google’s reCAPTCHA have included a number of numeric challenges instead of characters. We didn’t take much interest at the time but mentally noted it.

Google has today rolled out an updated version of its reCAPTCHA system.  We first saw the details herereCAPTCHA is a user-dialogue system originally developed by Luis von Ahn, Ben Maurer, Colin McMillen, David Abraham and Manuel Blum at Carnegie Mellon University's main Pittsburgh campus, and acquired by Google in September 2009. CAPTCHA stands for “Completely Automated Public Turing test to tell Computers and Humans Apart”, and as its name implies, it is a quick test used in computing to determine whether or not the user is human, and one has probably seen it many times on different sites, and we even use it upon our own, however we still seem to be displaying character strings.

Generally reCAPTCHA  presents two words (and the term words is used loosely): one which it knows (used to test whether you are human), and one which it doesn’t (used to help digitize the text in books). Since humans find numeric CAPTCHAs (pictured above) significantly easier to solve than those containing arbitrary text, Google will be showing you more and more numbers, which explains our observations. So we can expect to see it more often.

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